Sugar Loaf and Skirrid

September 25, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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These are two of the most accessible hills in the Black Mountains but they provide wonSkirrid Hill from Sugar Loafderful views. Skirrid, Ysgyryd Fawr or Holy Mountain as it also known, has for hundreds of years inspired a host of intriguing myths and tales.

I was with G, and we began with Sugar Loaf, walking up from a car park on the Abergavenny side. The paths are wide and easily followed (though we still managed to wade through bracken after missing the track while talking). The hill’s isolation provides excellent views, particularly over to Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr.

Sugar Loaf from SkirridThe weather was fine but cloudy and there was a chill in the wind on the summit of Sugar Loaf, but by the time we got to Skirrid (after a relaxing pint at The Bear in Crickhowell), the sun had broken through. Skirrid is a shorter and steeper climb but the views are as good if not better than from Sugar Loaf. As we climbed along the distinctive cloven ridge to the summit, the Black Mountains provided a wonderful backdrop beyond the summit. From the summit itself, we looked back as far as the Severn to the south east as well as over Sugar Loaf to the Brecon Beacons. A few stones are all that remain of the old chapel at the summit, but they add to the sense of this being a rather special hill.

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Fan Brycheiniog and Bannau Sir Gaer

September 16, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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Black Mountain is the confusing name given to the area enclosing the impressive range of hills that lie at the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The high points of Fan Brycheiniog and Bannau Sir Gaer are as impressive as any part of the Brecon Beacons.

Brecon Beacons from Fan BrycheiniogI started from the car park opposite the Tafarn-y-Garreg pub (which seems to be closed at the moment). The walk starts with a strenuous but gradual climb up grassy slopes and the escarpment edge to Fan Hir. The summit is unmarked but the views across the Brecon Beacons are impressive, with the grey forms of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du in the distance. The path then follows the escarpment edge and the climb to Fan Brycheiniog. The summit of Fan Brycheiniog, the highest point in the walk, is marked by a trig point and a sturdy stone shelter. It is then worth following the path around the ridge to the lesser peak of Fan-Foel for more fine views back along the escarpment and out to mid-Wales. The impressive ridge of Bannau Sir Gaer also becomes clear now, with Llyn y Fan Fach lying below. It is a stiff climb up to the highest point – Picws Du – the ridge then follows around to Waun Lefrith. Llyn y Fan Fach is associated with a legend of the Lady of the Lake, which then links to tales Bannau Sir Gaerin the Mabinogion.

Though this is the remotest part of the park, there were more walkers on the peaks than I usually see, but even these few faded away once I’d moved on from Bannau Sir Gaer and for the rest of the walk I was totally alone.

I went on, following the Nuttall route, to Garreg Las. Crossing the moorland I disturbed a snipe that took off out of the grass with a cry of annoyance more than alarm. Garreg Las, with its two huge cairns,  is a rocky outpost that marks the change into a limestone landscape of rocky outcrops, shake holes and swallow holes (and the caves of Dan-yr-Ogof). This is a long loop back – the walk is around 14 miles in total – but gives a fine end to the walk, particularly on a fine September day with the sun finally beating through the clouds.

Cadair Idris

September 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Posted in Walking | 2 Comments
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Cadair Idris was a fitting walk for my 60th Welsh summit. I took the Minffordd track via Cwm Cau and Craig Cwm Amarch up to Penygadair, the highest point in the Cadair Idris range. I then looped back via Mynydd Moel, with short spurs off to inclCraig Cwm Amarch and Lyn Cauude Cyfrwy and Gau Graig. It was an incredible September day, with mostly clear skies and strong sunshine, so as well a clear site to down to Barmouth on the coast and across Pumlumon, you could see out across the mid-Wales hills and up to the Lleyn Peninsular, the Rhinogs and Arans and in the distance the far peaks of Snowdonia, while Ireland was a faint outline on the horizon.

As the route is so well known, I was going to use this as an opportunity to reflect a bit more on the experience of hill-walking and the beauty of mountains. But the day provided its own focal point for thinking. As I came down the path from Craig Cwm Amarch across the ridge that steeples down to Llyn Cau – a still, tropical blue mirror below – I came across a group of people on the path. At first I thought they  had just stopped for a break but then I realised that a man was lying down and being cared for. My first thought, or hope, was that it was just a fall, a bruised knee or strained muscle, but someone was already trying to resuscitate him and people were obviously distressed. Fortunately the two walkers behind me were doctors and they took over the attempt at resuscitation but it already looked unlikely as there was no pulse and he had been down for 10 minutes or so. Someone had already reached the mountain rescue service and a helicopter was on its way. There was nothing I could see to do and so I and some others moved on, reassuring each other that that was the best thing.

At the top of the bwlch before splitting off to Cyfrwy from the main route up to Penygadair, I took a break. Watching back to the ridge I could see the group around the fallen man, anxiously waiting for the helicopter. Then I heard the slow thumping deep sound of blades and a helicopter appeared from the east but passed straight overhead towards the sea, then behind me I heard a much louder noise and a bright yellow RAF helicopter rose up from behind the ridge. It headed over the valley towards the accident but then circled without landing. In fact it had dropped the necessary equipment but, as another walker told me, the man was already dead and they were only retrieving the body.

There was a sense of sadness but also a sense of nothing being left undone. He hadn’t died from lack of medical attention, nor from a mistake. He had gone quickly on the hills on a beautiful day. It was tempting to think that this was not a bad way to go. Not a consolation anyone would have offered his wife then but one that his family will have drawn on in the days to come. And all the rest of us could do was carry on walking.Cyfryw and Barmouth from Penygadair

I trekked on to Cyfrwy with its clear views of the cliffs running down the north face of Cadair. Then onto the summit of Penygadair, where two groups of teenagers were joking, testing themselves, flirting. That felt appropriate too. And then they moved off and for a while I had the summit to myself, to sit and just look at the immense stretch of hills on all sides.

Then it was on to Mynydd Moel. This is a easy walk over from Penygadair and the good views continue from the edge of the ridge. As I left the summit I heard the beat of a raven’s wings behind me,  but this was not the usual solitary pair but six birds that gathered for a few minutes over the summit. I watched them wheel over the summit in a silent ballet, punctuated only by the occasional craw and soft beating of wings. After a minute or two they split into two groups, two flying westward and the rest going south with a final croaking cry.Craig Cwm Amarch from Penygadair

From there it was a short bog trot out and back to the outlying peak of Gau Graig. Then back down over heather and a steep track to rejoin the Minffordd path. The sun was just dipping behind the rocks of the ridge as I descended at the end of a beautiful day and thought provoking day.

Richard Long – Heaven and Earth

September 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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All walks leave traces on the ground, and in history, but most of the time those traces evaporate instantly from the landscape and from our memories, a means to arrive somewhere else. Even the deliberate, significant journeys we make rarely stay in our minds as walks themselves. It is the achievement that is remembered, not the real, physical presence of ourselves and our bodies in the landscape. Tales of hardship, photographs of special sights, or diaries and logs of the experience remain as ghost stories, tales of a presence we were for a while but are no longer.

Richard Long’s work, his exhibition at Tate Britain finished today, is an attempt to grasp, to praise, or simply to consider the moment of walking, the presence in the landscape of the man or woman that is also the moment of their presence on the planet. So he marks out the physicality of the walk – the routes taken, the things seen, the places he stayed – and raises them in our consciousness as real connections with the world, with ourselves now and in the past.

There is also a profound respect for the different levels of connection. Central to his work is the raw presence of the walker on the earth, the routes we take, the tracks we make. This presence is elaborated, for example, by the stone sculptures he makes – human art forged from 400 million year old rocks set in the ageless landscape of Snowdonia, the Canadian prairies or the Andes. Maps are also important. These abstractions not only make the expeditions possible but also encapsulate that experience in a richness and beauty that any artist must appreciate. So when he draws a black line across an ordnance survey map of Dartmoor, we see the beauty of the map maker, the joy and pain of the walk, the active creation of the artist and beyond that the reality of the hills and moors of the land itself.

Korzybski’s profound point that the map is not the territory was picked up by Gregory Bateson to becomes a central concept in disenchanting the relationship between human communication and understanding – in the form of art, science, religion, individual consciousness or social constructions – and the world as is, the thing in itself that we can only know through the mediation of our senses and those modalities of human communication. Richard Long re-enchants that linkage as an artist should. The short word descriptions of some of his walks or the things he saw or thought about, both encapsulate the experience and highlight the inadequacy of the representations. In accepting that it would be impossible to capture every aspect of an 8 day hike across the Cairngorms or a 10 mile walk across Dartmoor, he captures an essence that we miss in our walk logs or infinite digital photographs.

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